Foodservice Equipment Reports

Where Do We Find The Next Generation?

I’ve spent that past week talking about and talking to dealers. After a summer of nominations and e-mail exchanges, our judging panel of manufacturers convened by phone to discuss and choose the dealers for FER’s biennial Management Excellence Awards. It’s always fascinating to listen to the leading suppliers who know you best debate which companies are indeed the best. We’ll announce the 2017 winners, who will be honored at our Industry Awards event during The NAFEM Show in February, in a few weeks. One of the key themes of the discussion was what companies are bringing in a new generation of employees with new thinking.

We staged this call while we were in Minneapolis attending the annual meeting of the Association of Correctional Food Service Affiliates. Let me say unabashedly I love correctional foodservice folks. They are without question the most empathetic foodservice professionals I’ve ever met. The group’s past president, Phil Atkinson, who runs foodservice for the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office in Minneapolis, won our operator Industry Service Award in 2015. During the meetings, these dedicated operators also talked about where they can possibly find younger people who want to work in the challenging corrections foodservice environment.

The meeting also gave me a chance to hang out with some good dealer friends, especially Demetrios Selevredes Sr., of Federal Supply based in Waukegan, Ill. Demetrios made a decision a couple decades ago to re-niche Federal, founded by his familyin 1931, from a traditional full-service dealership into one focusing almost exclusively on contract design work for correctional foodservice. As he told me last week, “Everyone thought I was crazy.” He wasn’t. Federal has prospered through thick and thin ever since. It’s one of my favorite stories about how dealers can reimagine themselves.

Federal is also a great example of a family dealer business, prepared for the future. Demetrios’ daughter Nicole is now president. His son Demetrios II is also in the business. And Federal’s booth at the ACFSA vendor show was full of 30-somethings.

But what does one do if the kids aren’t interested in the business? Many of you, when you hire from outside, find operator folks, chefs and foodservice managers who are looking for more regular, less demanding hours, but have an understanding of foodservice kitchens and the equipment and tools they use. It’s always been a great source of younger talent and I suspect will be forever.

Bigger dealerships require a host of specialized talent from digitally savvy marketing people to IT professionals to folks skilled in inventory management, fulfillment systems and logistics. Sometimes these specialists rise into the management ranks and gain a wider purview.

I don’t have an easy answer for where we all find the next generation. As most of you are aware, Jan’s and my daughter Emma came aboard to work for us last year. She’s been a joy to work with , is doing a great job, and loves the business. When I look at the dealerships I most admire, many—if not most—of them are multigenerational. In many of these companies, the next generation often brings new vitality and thinking. But there is always the risk of getting caught up in the “we’ve always done it this way” philosophy, too.

What I do know is that all of us need to prepare for the future.


Robin Ashton


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